The Forever Rain

It started like any other rain at first: a smattering of wetness falling from the sky. Pedestrians strolling on the sidewalk looked up when they felt small drops hit their faces and outstretched palms.

“Looks like rain,” people said then. And it was.

The spitting turned to a downpour, and people ran for cover, unfurled umbrellas, and shielded themselves with newspapers and briefcases. The rain had began in earnest. I remember where I was when that happened: I’d been sitting out on the patio of Cafe Fontaine having an espresso. That was four months ago.

Like a disease, a black plague, a rolling tide of judgement, the dark clouds slowly made their way everywhere, and with them, the rain came. The reports of rapidly rising floodwaters were first only from the interior, then all across the country.

The rain falls. My wife sits beneath a soaked blanket with my young daughter as I slowly paddle our tiny boat, my arms stiff and sore and cold, between the rows of streetlights. The highway they lined is beneath us, submerged along with so many abandoned cars filling it; futile attempts to escape the rising floods, already then too late.

Up ahead is an overpass. We are nearly level with its bottom, the water has risen so high. As it draws nearer I see on it graffiti sprayed in violent red:

REPENT SINNERS BEFORE AN ANGRY GOD
THE TIME OF OUR JUDGEMENT HAS COME

My daughter shivers beneath the blanket.

“Daddy,” she says in little her voice. “When will the rain stop?”

I hold her and my wife close and we huddle together in each other’s warmth.

“I don’t know, baby,” I say. “I don’t know.”

The Shower Scene

One time when I was younger my mother told me something that really stuck with me. She told me that when she was a teenager she saw the movie ‘Psycho’ even though her parents had expressly forbidden her to, and after she watched that movie she couldn’t shower for a month, she was so scared of the infamous ‘shower scene’.

Imagine that. Watching a movie with a scene about something as commonplace and everyday as taking a shower and having that make it absolutely terrifying. And, as many people have pointed out, compared to modern films, the shower scene doesn’t actually show all that much of anything – it’s all in what is suggested, which is the brilliance of Hitchcock at work.

I’d never seen the shower scene, in fact, only heard it talked about by others and seen bits and pieces of it when it was referenced in documentaries and TV specials about Hitchcock or the history of film. But still my mother’s story about it terrifying her that much changed the way I thought about showering. It made me realize how strange an act it actually was and how frightening it could really be.

I mean, it’s kind of strange when you really think about it, the fact that each and every day we step into this tiny little chamber, no more than a few feet by the length of the average human body, and then completely close ourselves in. With a curtain. Or maybe a sliding glass door. Frosted usually, so if someone else happens to be using the bathroom they can’t see your naked ass and naughty bits, but perhaps more importantly, it means that you can’t see what’s going on outside. What’s on the other side of the curtain? You have no way to know except to hold it back a little and peek out from behind it.

I guess it was about two years ago. These past two years my morning routine is a lot different now than all the years before, but we’ll get to that in a bit, hold on there. Even then, even before it happened, I guess I never really liked showering that much, after what my mother had told me. I found myself sometimes worrying if I’d forgotten to lock the front door or left a window open, or the back door maybe, with only the old storm door that didn’t shut completely on its own, and maybe someone could break in and rob the house while I bathed myself, or, worse, barge into the bathroom and attack me where I was behind the curtain blissfully unaware.

So, I’ll admit it. Sometimes those types of thoughts got the better of me. Sometimes, I peeked, just to make myself feel better. To reassure myself that I was just being silly. Irrational.

That time I really wish I hadn’t.

Have you ever had the feeling that someone is watching you? Ever just been sitting somewhere, minding your own business, reading a magazine or playing with your phone or watching pigeons flutter away against the backdrop of a blue sky and you know – you just know – that someone is watching you? I remember one of my psychology professors in university liked to say that there’s nothing more powerful than the gaze of a human eye. If we see other people staring at something we can’t help but follow to see where they’re looking. It’s in our nature. Evolutionary. But I think he meant more than that, I knew he did. There’s something about another presence, about something observing you, that you can just feel.

The steam of the shower was hot and the water was too, and just as I was finishing rinsing the last of the shampoo out of my hair, I felt it. A presence. Something watching me. Something there in the bathroom with me. It sounds crazy, I know. I knew I was just being ridiculous but I couldn’t help it, just like my irrational fear that someone would barge into the house while I was defenseless beneath the hot water, I knew this was irrational too. Ridiculous.

But I still had to look. To prove to myself that it was. That the presence I felt was only my imagination, only my mind playing tricks on me.

Ever so slowly, I stepped over toward the far side of the tub, the one away from the falling water of the showerhead, and slowly pulled back the curtain to look.

I opened my mouth but nothing came out. Thank God nothing did. Who knows what would have happened had I made a sound? Terror, sheer, raw, utter terror overtook every part of me in that moment. I wanted to run. I wanted to scream but knew I could not. I wanted nothing more than to flee from that tiny space beneath the falling water and dive into the safety of my warm bed and hide beneath the covers until it went away and I could stop shaking and convince myself that what I saw was not, could not, be real.

In the bathroom, not two feet away, towering over me, was a creature.

I don’t expect you to believe me. Why should I? It’s impossible. But it happened. I know it did. How do you describe to someone something that is beyond belief? The paranormal? The fantastical? The beyond real? I’m doing my best. All I know is that that thing I saw in the bathroom was as real as you and me. And it’s no exaggeration to say at that moment I was more terrified than I’d ever been in my entire life.

The thing was tall, too tall, tall and white, and had smooth, smooth skin. It was facing away from me, so all I saw in that furtive horrified glance I took was its giant back arching toward the ceiling and the rounded whiteness of its skull.

The terror I felt. What did it want? How had it gotten in? And what horrible would the face of this horrible thing look like when it turned to face me? Full of long pointed teeth covered in the blood of children it had devoured. Of previous victims caught unaware in the shower, dozing on the couch, sleeping in their beds. Two sunken black pits for eyes that burned with the red fires of hell.

The water poured down and the steam rose and the seconds passed and the thing, the terrible thing, just sat there and my fear, my complete and utter horror and dread of this thing, was absolutely palpable. I put my hand over my mouth and tried not to make a sound. Not to breathe.

The creature was not two feet away from me. It needed only to reach out the tiniest bit with one of its long spindly arms to touch me, and then what would it do? Impale me on its long bony fingers that I’d seen hanging down to the tile of the floor. Spear me on its claws, slash and tear me until I bled to death and my blood mixed with the water going down the drain, just like that in the shower scene.

Have you ever had to do something you know you must but every part of you screams not to? Have you ever been so terrified that every part of you, every tiny fiber of your being screams for you to turn and run, but you know you can’t, that you mustn’t, that you’ve got to face your fear head-on if you want to survive?

I have.

Ever part of me wanted nothing more than to scream and run from the warm wet safety of my tiny universe, to tear out of the bathroom and run screaming out of the house, down the street, naked and dripping wet, just to escape the horror of that thing that stood waiting for me. But I knew I had to look again. I knew I had to hold back the curtain and look again just to convince myself that it was real.

Holding back my fear, quivering and shaking, every part of me wanting to scream, wanting to run, I slowly pulled back the curtain just a little to reveal nothing.

There was nothing there. I was alone. The water kept falling and beating its rhythm against the bottom of the tub. I had imagined it.

I finally watched the shower scene. And I know now why it must have been so terrifying for my mother at the time. It’s true, it doesn’t show that much, but that’s is precisely what makes it so brilliant, as I said before, and so many others have said before me. It’s not about what you do see, but what you don’t see. Terror is not about what is shown, but what isn’t. The greatest horrors are those that are left to our imagination. The white creature that visited me will always fill my nightmares, but only because of what I did not see – it never faces me, never acknowledges me, but still I know that it is watching. The most frightening thing is that if the very presence of this thing filled me with such dread I cannot begin to comprehend its true nature – what staring into the face of such a thing would have done to me.

I don’t take showers any more. Two years it’s been since then. Two years that I’ve only taken baths, and then only with the door open. I try to tell myself that what I saw wasn’t real. Couldn’t have been real. But when I stepped out of the shower that day, still very much shaken from what I’d seen, on the tile of the floor next to the bathmat were two giant wet footprints.

It’s still out there, watching me.

Froggy

When I came back outside Sandy was over by the edge of the pond amongst the bulrushes, crouched down on her little haunches in her bright purple boots.

“Sandy!” I said, picking up some more dirty plates from the patio table. “What are you doing over there, honey?”

She didn’t look, just called out in her cute little 4-year-old voice I never tired of hearing: “Playing boats Mommy!”

I set the dishes back down on the table and strolled over to her. Pushing aside the tall grass I saw a tiny paper boat floated toward the center of the pond, slowly sailing with the last of its inertia from the push my little girl had given it.

“Honey, where’d you learn to play boats?” I said, crouching down next to her.

“Froggy!” she said, hugging me. “Froggy lives in the pond. Froggy and I love playing boats!” And then she ran off back into the house.

Isn’t that cute? I thought, but part of me still wondered where she learned to fold a paper boat like that. Must have been at kindergarten.

That night I awoke that in the darkness to a scream, a scream I recognized in even my sleep to be that of my little girl. It had come from outside. I ran out of the bedroom in my nightgown, down the stairs and out the back door onto the grass.

“Sandy!” I called. “SANDY!”

Tiny footprints led to something white by the edge of the pond, pushed in the damp earth and surrounded by the dewy grass. Slowly I followed them over and picked it up.

It was Sandy’s paper boat, limp and soggy, and beneath it sunk into the mud was a massive webbed footprint, the first of a trail which led out to the center of the pond, where a single purple boot floated.

In the Shower

We made love in the shower every morning

I loved the feeling of the hot water pouring down
His strong hands touching me
Caressing me
Holding me
Pushing my body against the tile of the wall

But then there was the accident
And so quickly he was gone
I cried every morning since
The salt of my tears mixing with the cold water
Disappearing down the drain
Forever

This morning I felt his presence behind the curtain with me
His invisible hands touching me
Grabbing me
Gripping me
I threw back my head and moaned

It was when I felt his hands around my throat
That my moans turned to choking screams
I realized he was back
Not because I missed him
But because he missed me

Brita Jug

“MARVIN! I TOLD YOU TO REFILL THE GODDAMN BRITA!”

“Sorry dear!” Marvin called out from the bedroom into the kitchen. He wasn’t sorry. Later Sue-Ann refilled the Brita.

The next day, Marvin got up and walked over to the fridge. He pulled the Brita jug out and poured himself a tall glass of water, emptying it.

He walked back to the living room. He saw that the red light was blinking on the answering machine. He pushed the button and drank all the water from the glass, very nearly spitting the last of it out when he heard Sue-Ann’s angry voice coming from the machine.

“You didn’t refill the goddamn Brita, did you Marvin? Did you? How goddamn hard is it to refill the goddamn Brita before you put it in the goddamn fridge? I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times!

“It’s not just about the goddamn Brita, Marvin. It’s not just about me opening the fridge door and finding that stupid empty jug staring me in the face and picturing your lazy ass putting it back in the fridge. It’s everything. I can’t take it anymore. I can’t handle being around your lazy ass anymore. I can’t handle listening to you bitch and complain all day and never do anything for anyone but yourself. I’ve had enough.

“I really hope you play this message, because I really want you to realize what you just drank. I really want you to learn your lesson before you die.”

Marvin set the glass down on the table next to the answering machine. His stomach felt warm.

The warmth began spreading.

Water From The Well

“Sue! Goddammit Sue, where’s the water from the well?! Goddammit Sue! Godddammit!”

Sue had no legs. In what universe it made sense for her to be the one doing all the work, for her to be the one keeping his lazy ass alive, for her to do all the cooking, all the cleaning, all the chores around the farm, wheeling herself around in her wheelchair while he sat there on his fat ass on the porch swing, she did not know. And Sue did not know what she had done to deserve this.

“Sue! Goddammit Sue, where’s ma water?”

She hated him. She hated him and his soiled undershirt. She hated him and his rolls of fat. She hated him and his tobacco-stained teeth. She hated him for everything he was. For the way he treated her. For the way he’d treated her all these years, even before the accident had taken her legs.

Sue rolled her wheelchair up the uneven boards of the ramp to the porch. The boards wobbled and rattled beneath the wheels. The pail of water from the well sat in her lap, the numbing cold unfelt on her thighs, the contents sloshing unhappily as she propelled herself up the ramp toward the ungrateful bastard she was stuck with.

“Sue! Where’s ma goddamn water, Sue?! I’s thirsty!”

She finished coming up the ramp. She wheeled the chair up in front of the porch swing, right in front of him and his greasy stained undershirt. Right in front of his loathsome fatness and stink of cigarette smoke.

“Well, watcha waitin’ for, there?! Get me a damn glassa water, Sue!”

Sue stared into his eyes, focused and resolute, her rage smoldering inside her.

“You want some water?” she said coldly.

“Yeah, Sue, goddammit, I do!”

“Here’s your damn water.”

She grabbed the back of his head and plunged his face into the freezing cold liquid. He struggled but her arms were too strong for him. It was only when his thrashing ceased that she released her grip, and slowly, softly, began to cry.

Dove Lake

I always loved going up to the cottage. It had been passed down in my family for generations. A rustic little box of stone and red wood, it sat in the middle of clearing down by the waters of Dove Lake, a stalwart little guardian of the serene wilderness around it.

I remember packing up all our things every summer with my Dad – fishing rods, propane grill, pots and pans, citronella candles, the whole kit and caboodle – into the back of our tiny dark green station wagon and heading up there for a week every July.

I loved those times in my childhood. My father was a stern man, but that tough armor he wore, that look he had like the world owed something and he was going to fight damn hard to get it, seemed to fall by the wayside as soon as we made our way up north. The beautiful trees and rocky hills of the Canadian Shield just brought out the good in him and let him leave all his worries behind.

My old man passed away many years ago, God bless him, and so the cottage belongs to me now. Kate and I had been loading up our own little car and heading up there every summer just as I’d done in my childhood. But that all came to a stop that one summer. I could never look at the cottage the same way after that, or think of it only in the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia.

It was two years ago that it happened. Kate had just had the baby not too long ago, and we’d decided after all the stress of becoming new parents to head up to the cottage for some time just for us. We deserved it. We left the baby with Kate’s parents, packed up the car, and headed up the highway to Dove Lake.

“I just want to sit out on the dock and read my book,” Kate had said.

That was the other thing. We weren’t just heading up there and leaving our newborn son behind just because we wanted some time for ourselves. Kate hadn’t been doing so well after the delivery. She’d still been in a lot of pain (which the doctors said was not normal, but did occur) and more troubling, had been very down since.

I talked with our doctor about what to do. Medication wasn’t necessary, he’d said. This happens after a baby sometimes and it eventually goes away. If things worsened or Kate’s mood didn’t lift we could look at other options. He agreed that heading up to the cottage to relax and take our minds off things would be a good way for Kate to feel better.

It was great to get up there. The sun was beautiful on the rippling dark waters of Dove Lake and our little rustic getaway (humble though it was) brought joy to my heart when we pulled into the property’s gravel drive. I thought of my youth, of sitting out in the little tin tippy and fishing with my Dad, and him telling me stories about the men at the factory, and how he’d travelled across Europe by train when had graduated from college, and how Grandpa used to sit out and fish on the lake with him just as we were.

I squeezed Kate’s hand. She was staring out the passenger window.

“Honey, we’re here,” I said.
“I know,” she replied heavily, and sighed. She frowned and I kissed her on the cheek.

It was always cold in the cottage. Though it was the middle of July, Dove Lake was far enough north that the temperature really dropped in the early morning and in the evening. You could see your breath in those early hours, those mornings we’d sit out on the dock and drink strong black coffee from tin mugs, and watch the mist rise from the still waters of the lake.

This year was different somehow. I was excited and happy to be away and escape up to the family retreat, but everything carried this dreary heaviness that emanated from Kate. Nothing seemed to break up the dark clouds that surrounded her; there was an impenetrable wall, a filter where all the sunshine and beauty passed in dull and gray to her, and all the beauty I knew she had inside couldn’t get out.

I tried to help. I tried to cheer her up, but I just couldn’t. Things got worse, and we argued at night, though she had even little energy to put into that. In those nights we huddled under the sheets close but were a thousand miles apart; the air in the cottage was cold but her next to me was colder still.

By the fourth day we weren’t talking much. There was just this uncomfortable silence between us, and the dark gloom enveloping her. I began to wonder what to do. I just wanted us to be happy. I suggested that perhaps we should just go home, that it wasn’t right to do it that year, what with the new baby, and how she was feeling, but she wouldn’t hear any of it.

“We came for the week,” she said, sad but resolute. “We’ll stay for the week.” She sighed again.

On the fifth day Kate wouldn’t come outside. I went for a hike. I came back to the cottage and she was lying on the bed, staring up at the ceiling.

“Honey,” I said, “Let’s go out in the boat. Come on, let’s go fishing.” Anything.
“No,” she sighed, and rolled over. “You go.”

I should never have gone.

The waters of Dove Lake were dark that day, dark and still and quiet; the air was cold and damp. I rowed out and there was no sound at all, except the metal oarlocks creaking in protest and the water splashing from their cyclic motion. I stopped when I reached the center of the lake and dropped my line. I felt alone. I worried about my wife, and about our new son. I looked over the side of the boat at my reflection in the glassy water. It was like a mirror. My face stared back up at me, tired and sad, with the dark gray clouds over that overcast day as my backdrop.

Far off near the shore, I saw mist rising from the shallows. I didn’t catch anything in those lonely hours. I felt as the last man in all the world, sitting completely alone and isolated, in the center of purgatory. No one could reach me. No one knew I was here. Nothing could lift the gloom of the mists of the lake.

I paddled back to shore, and turned to see the cottage dock coming into view, coalescing out of the mist. I pulled the oars again and their metal shackles squealed. Splash. Squeal. Splash. Squeal. I stopped again and turned to toward the cottage.

Peering through the mist, I saw a ghostly spectre emerging from the far end of the dock. It was a pale, thin form, naked, slowly treading along the boards toward the cold black waters at the end.

It was Kate.

I screamed her name and my cry echoed out against the gray sky. She didn’t slow. I began to panic and started rowing with all my strength. The oarlocks groaned and complained louder than before and I felt like I was going to tear them from the gunwales of the boat. I’d never get there in time. I called her name again and again and my distraught cries echoed out into the nothingness, into the watching trees of the North.

Again I turned and looked over my shoulder. I was too late. I watched my wife reach the end of the dock. Even from the distance I could see her standing there, starkly contrasted against the rising mist. Slowly, she looked down. She raised her eyes straight up, to the lake, to me, and then her arm in one long, fluid, languorous motion. One finale wave goodbye.

Kate stepped from the dock and disappeared into the waters of Dove Lake.

I screamed and screamed and pulled the oars with all my strength. I paddled faster and faster, faster than I ever had before, until my arms burned and every fiber of my being begged me to stop. Still I rowed, until my arms felt like they would be pulled from their sockets. It didn’t matter. There was nothing I could do.

By the time I reached the dock, Kate was already dead. Her body floated cold and lifeless in the water. Sobbing, I pulled it into the boat with me. I cradled her head in my lap and sobbed and sobbed and called for her to come back, to live, not to go.

But she was already gone.

Last year the anniversary of Kate’s death came around. Her parents and my family offered their condolences. We had a nice dinner at her folks’ place, and visited the cemetery to honor her memory. But I wanted to do so in my own way. I wanted to go back to Dove Lake and have some time alone just as I’d done every year.

When I got up there after the long drive, everything was eerily still and all the memories came flooding in a rush, like a dam breaking. It was just as it had all been the year before. On the coarse wood of the table made of logs, still folded, sat the quilt Kate had lain under the day she died.

I’m selling the cottage this year, because like I said, I can never go back up there again. I can never feel the same way about the cottage as I did before. And maybe you think that’s because of what happened, because of Kate dying, and because of all the bad feelings I now have associated with that place, overpowering all the memories of my youth.

But that’s not it. I can never go back because last year I rowed out to the center of the lake again, and in the mists of the far shore I saw Kate walking out into the water; and when I looked down into it I saw not my own reflection, but her sad face, begging me why I’d done nothing to stop her.